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Learning the Montessori Way: Letters & Sounds

When my three older children started their Montessori education, they could already identify uppercase and lowercase letters in print and knew most of their sounds.  Writing practice had  commenced for Bulldozer and Princess.  Dinomite could already write all of his uppercase and lowercase letters in print.

As I learned more about the Montessori approach, I added bits and pieces of it to our learning process, but never fully grasped the entire process of learning letters and sounds the Montessori way.
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Sunshine is now ready for the preschool curriculum.  I've introduced letters, just like I did with her siblings, but the process is not going well.  After much thought, I decided it's time to learn the Montessori approach to teaching letters and sounds in its entirety.  I'm very confident that if I use this approach with her she'll be successful, as all other Montessori approaches I have tried with her work.

A special thanks to Seemi at Trillium Montessori and Nicole at The Kavanaugh Report for helping me piece this all together, while answering all of my questions.  I could not have put this post together without their help.

Maria Montessori never ceases to amaze me in her ability to understand the learning process and abilities of a child.  Her methods and materials are brilliant.  I regret that I didn't know about them sooner.  With that said, wrapping my head around the basic concepts of her language curriculum took some time as it seemed completely backwards to me, based on how I learned so many years ago, and how I taught my other three children.

However, as I've observed my older three children and tried to fill in the gaps using Montessori principles, I have come to realize that she really was a genius in how she put this together.  If I could do things over again with my older children, I would definitely use this approach, instead of the one so familiar.  I can't wait to start with Sunshine!

Before language materials are introduced to a toddler or preschooler, phonetic awareness can be taught using simple games such as "I Spy!"  The Learning Ark provides details and instructions about the game.  

Montessori Sandpaper Letters

Children begin their language journey using the Montessori Lower Case Cursive Sandpaper Letters.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Most children in Montessori schools learn cursive first.  Why?

  • It is much easier for little hands.
  • There is only one starting place.
  • Children don't have to worry about starting and stopping with each line and letter.
  • The letters are full of loops and curves.
  • Reversing letters occurs less often when writing in cursive.
 At first I was a little hesitant about this approach, however I've learned quite quickly that all three of my older children find writing in cursive much easier.  Their handwriting skills are significantly better.

Bulldozer has struggled for YEARS trying to write his letters in print correctly and still makes mistakes often.  When he writes in cursive, errors in formation are very rare.  Dinomite doesn't struggle with letter reversal issues like he did when writing in print.  It's a win-win situation for everyone.

Now to be fair, not ALL Montessori schools teach cursive first.  It depends on the training of the teacher and how the children respond etc.  So, if you'd prefer to teach your child print first, the same materials used to teach cursive are available in print.
This includes the Montessori Lower Case Sandpaper Letters.  No matter which alphabet you choose, print or cursive, you will introduce lowercase letters first.  When introducing letters, you do not introduce them by name, but by sound.  I'll repeat myself, just to make sure the concept sinks in.  In Montessori schools, letters are introduced by sound, not letter name.

As with all Montessori lessons, there are 3 periods.  The same is true when working with the sandpaper letters.  You can see an example of a three period lesson at Living Montessori Now.  If you're unsure about the pronunciation of each sound, Living Montessori Now provides a video with instruction.

No more than a couple letter sounds are introduced at a time.  There is no specified order of introduction, other than making sure that the letters don't look and/or sound alike.  In our home, I prefer to introduce letters in the order of our Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers.  Living Montessori Now has a fabulous post with several different options of introducing letter sounds.

Once sandpaper letters have been introduced, the child can use them as part of more phonetic activities, including more "I Spy!" games like this one from The Kavanaugh Report.  If you are looking for mini figures to use in your activities, the Montessori Language Manipulatives from Montessori by Mom are fabulous!  For those children who may need more work with letter sounds, you can find inspiration from a guest post at Trillium Montessori.

Once a child is learning and identifying letters by sound, you can also introduce phonograms using the Montessori Cursive Sandpaper Double Letters.  Some teachers prefer to wait, but there is no need if you feel the child is ready.  Remember, you always want to follow the child.  Just like with single letters, only sounds are introduced.

For a better understanding of how to introduce phonograms, I highly recommend watching the video in a post from Living Montessori Now.
For those who to prefer to introduce print first, Montessori Lower Case Double Sandpaper Letters are available.

Montessori Moveable Alphabet

The Montessori Cursive Moveable Alphabet is the next Montessori material introduced when learning letters and sounds.  For instructions on how to present the moveable alphabet, visit the Montessori Primary Guide.
For those who prefer to teach print first, a Montessori Small Movable Alphabet is available.

Once there is a basic understanding of how to use the moveable alphabet, there are multiple activities that can be created to go along with the material.  Maria Montessori created only three beginner language materials outside of grammar materials:  the sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet and the metal insets which will be discussed in a later post.

All other materials now used in some Montessori curricula were created by others to supplement the original lessons and activities.  If you're looking for supplemental materials and activities, why not consider learning about the Pink Series?  There is a fabulous post from Our Montessori Home that outlines the progression of the series.  You can view our Pink Series activities and free printables HERE.

Teaching sounds first is a good example of how insightful Montessori was about the way that children learn.  Experience taught her that the identification of letter names, capital letters, and their corresponding sounds come naturally to children, after they are introduced to the sounds first.

If you have observed that a child is not able to identify letters by name in kindergarten, you may need to plan time to teach them.  The same goes for uppercase letters.  Once you have finished teaching cursive or print, you will teach the other form, if the child hasn't already picked it up on their own.
Montessori Cursive Capital Case Sandpaper Letters are available if needed to aid in this process.
Montessori Capital Case Sandpaper Letters Print are also available.

For more information about beginning Montessori materials and lessons be sure to read the post below:


  1. This is an awesome resource. Thanks

  2. Thank you for sharing! I'm curious how children transition into reading when their taught cursive first? Since all early reader books are written in print, I feel like I should start with that first. Though it makes since to teach cursive since it is so much easier to write

  3. We love our sandpaper letters! The minute I think we can keep it away, is usually the time when we discover we still need to revisit the work.

  4. I love how you put this Montessori language resource together so that we can understand the sequence of events for learning. Thank you! Great link up too! ;)

  5. Great article. It's easy and simple to understand for anybody - truly useful! :)

  6. A wonderful breakdown and summary of the essentials. Thank you for sharing!


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